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Reclaiming Midwives at CDS
Untitled (Next day continuing care). Albany, GA, 1952. Silver gelatin print. Courtesy Robert Galbraith.

DURHAM, NC.- The Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University presents Reclaiming Midwives, on view through April 2, 2007. A traveling exhibition curated by Linda Janet Holmes, Reclaiming Midwives features photographs by Robert Galbraith that explore the lives and experiences of black midwives in Georgia in the early 1950s. Galbraith was a cameraman for George C. Stoney’s 1953 film All My Babies, produced by the Association of American Medical Colleges and the Georgia Department of Public Health, and intended as an instructional tool for the midwives still delivering most of the babies in rural Georgia at the time. The film, featuring Albany, Georgia, midwife Mary Francis Hill Coley (1900–66), has traveled to train midwives around the world.

“Galbraith’s photographs tell a collective story about the multifaceted experience of midwifery as an intimate and embracing experience for women of varying ages. … To me, the subtext of these photographs is more than the fact that family life is central to the stories of midwives. Delivering and having a baby are dramatic events in most families. These photographs are filled with striking examples. Galbraith is a compassionate photographer who has documented a cultural tradition that continues to this day.”­-Deborah Willis, University Professor of Photography and Imaging, Tisch School of the Arts, New York University

“By reprinting and re-presenting these images to the public, Galbraith and [curator Linda Janet] Holmes are able to reclaim not only the vital legacy that black midwives represent, but they also remind us of the immediacy and emotional power of the documentary image. In addition to recording many of the key scenes that made up the film, Galbraith emphasizes the communal bonds formed between traditional midwives, often called ‘granny midwives,’ and their clients. The sense of kinship within a segregated society is visible in these photographs, while the regulation and certification of midwife training (which was the primary purpose of the film) becomes less prominent. The narrative power of Galbraith’s work is linked to the traditions of American photojournalism and is strengthened by the photographer’s commitment to portraying his subject. Galbraith may not be well known in the history of documentary photography but his training in both film and still photography places him squarely within the tradition of socially concerned artists of the 1930s, ’40s, and ’50s.”-­Lisa Henry, curator and writer.

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